In Davidson, 'Crying Game' director found missing piece to complete picture

January 01, 1993|By Robert W. Butler | Robert W. Butler,Kansas City Star

Neil Jordan had the script. He had the financial backing. He had cast all the roles but one.

What he didn't have was someone to play Dil, the sexy, vulnerable but savvy London hairdresser heroine of his film "The Crying Game."

Dil is a character unique in films, someone with secrets so well-hidden that when they're revealed it leaves audiences reeling. (And don't expect to learn Dil's secrets here.)

"I had absolutely nobody to play this role," the Irish writer-director said in a recent telephone interview from Toronto. "I was looking at all sorts of trained actors, and none of them could do what I needed for them to do. I knew I was going to have to go out and find somebody who was literally this character in real life."

That meant interviewing and auditioning literally hundreds of would-be movie stars.

"I did this before with my films 'The Company of Wolves' and 'The Miracle,' and in those cases I cast people who had never acted. You just talk to people, audition them. It's a very exhausting process, but finally I found somebody who was Dil."

That somebody was Jaye Davidson, 24, whose exotic looks reflect an African father and an English mother. Aside from a few school plays, Ms. Davidson had no show-business experience or ambitions, preferring to work in the fashion industry.

"Jaye provided an emotional vulnerability, a richness that I was thrilled by," Mr. Jordan said. "The film could not have been made without me finding this person."

Working with non-actors can be risky, but it's also liberating, said Mr. Jordan, whose other films include "Mona Lisa," "High Spirits" and "We're No Angels."

"You get freshness on the screen," he said. "With first-timers there are no tricks, no disguises, no actorish habits. You get a performance which, because of that person's lack of experience, puts all the other actors on their toes.

"An old pro can deliver the same line the same way forever, but with a newcomer every take is fresh and new. The professional actors can't fall back on mannerisms, because they know that we're going to use the one take that makes the newcomer look good, and the old pros had better be ready when it comes along. Good actors are always looking for a challenge and they rise to it."

"The Crying Game" begins in Northern Ireland where the IRA kidnaps a British soldier, Jody (Forest Whitaker). While in captivity Jody is befriended by an IRA gunman, Fergus (Stephen Rea), and makes the Irishman promise that he'll look after Jody's girlfriend, Dil.

Fergus makes good on his pledge and goes to London, where he falls in love with Dil.

Mr. Jordan, a resident of Ireland, notes that it's somewhat risky to make movies that deal with the Irish Republican Army.

"Irish filmmakers tend to practice self-censorship out of fear," he said. "It's like the way nobody in Italy makes movies about the Mafia. It's too close to the bone, an unspoken fact of life. But my attitude is that it's happening, somebody has to do it, somebody has to make movies about it.

"My main concern was that I didn't want any Irish cliches. I didn't want any out-and-out villains, no faceless masks of evil. It's important to me as an Irish person that the characters I draw are real ones."

"The Crying Game" has political, racial and sexual currents running throughout it, Mr. Jordan said.

"Fergus starts out as a person who needs to blinker his vision. In his mind, the IRA is good, the British are bad. Then he finds while guarding Jody that under different circumstances they could have been good friends. The story is about him starting to see people as human beings. And that continues into his relationship with Dil."

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